🇹🇭 Chiang Mai, Thailand!!! 🇹🇭
Chiang Mai is called a hidden gem for a reason – it’s lovely! There are dozens of temples, delicious restaurants and smiling locals. Download Grab, bring some cash, and you’ll be all set for a wonderful time in the lovely town of Chiang Mai. Here was my experience in the north of Thailand – in 9 Easy Steps. 🙂
1. Getting there
I hopped on the train in Bangkok and watched the scenery for nearly 11 hours in the roomy but dilapidated train car (that had AC but also fans connected to the ceiling. Like, regular fans you’d stick in your living room lol hilarious). They served us a meal of chicken curry and rice, and then pickled Mackerel, which smelled as terrible as one might suspect haha, and a custard egg roll that tasted of pure sugar. I slept and took pictures, but I mostly ate. I was soooo hungry from 23,000 steps the day before, so I just ate and ate and ate. So much, in fact, that the guy across the isle GAVE ME HIS LUNCH and said, in broken English, that I clearly need it more than he did. 😂😂😂
We arrived an hour late, so it was dark at the Chiang Mai Train station. There were only overpriced, non-metered taxis in front of the station, so I tried to call a Grab Taxi…but to no avail. None were available. But then, I met two nice gals from Argentina and asked to split their Grab Taxi with them. That worked out well, as I got into the city center, met two fellow female travelers, and got to see a bit of the city at night (due to the 10 minute walk from their hostel to mine). I would have preferred to have done the exploring without my bursting suitcase, but here we are… 😂😂
When I found my hostel, the gate was locked 😱😱 I called the number on the iiiiiitty bitty sticky note on the door, and she said she’d be over “in a while.” 🙄
She ended up being a nightmare, and was only nice to me while trying to sell me local tours. “Good price. Good price.” When I told her I’d already booked everything, she basically ran ahead of me, opened my room to let all the mosquitoes in, told me never to forget the key and, with a frown, she left. 🙄 She was the worst.
The next day, I wandered around to find some American breakfast. The “orange juice” was simply any juice that was orange, which could have been anything from clementine juice to Fanta. I had to constantly make sure I wasn’t ordering Fanta, haha.
The food was great (it was called Archer’s!) and the WiFi was fast – happy me! I devoured my English Breakfast and tea for $4USD and uploaded a ton of pictures. They had beautiful trees painted all over the restaurant, with bright pink and yellow leaves, as well as adorable animals hanging onto the foliage, lol.
3. Wat Phra That Doi Kham
I called a cab from Grab and, for $21USD, my driver took me to the Giant Buddha that was 1/2 an hour away, waited for me for an hour, and then drove me home. Amazing!!!
The Buddha was massive and so unbelievably tall!!! People were praying and banging on gongs and burning incense and giving donations of 20-50 Baht (35 Baht = $1USD), with the bills attached to colorful sticks. There were a few other Buddha statues around the grounds, as well as a spectacular view. The part that really wowed me was the giant stairwell at the top. I mean, wow! There were something like 300 steps, and it looked like you were walking up the belly of a giant dragon, dressed in royal garments.
Outside, there were rows and rows of stalls with people selling yummy treats, petting adorable miniature dogs and making beautiful clothes. I loved the tiny baskets and small children’s shoes.
I had a great chat with my Grab driver as we headed back into the city. I learned that he tries to speak English with his young daughter, who refuses to have conversations with him, because he “doesn’t speak so good.” 😂 I told him that I was an English teacher, and he was doing very well. 😂
4. Window Shopping
Back in the city, I stopped at all the colorful artsy shops along the dusty road. I loved talking with the shop owners, who’ve all lived in Chiang Mai since the beginning of time, and knew everyone within a three mile radius. I ate lunch at a nice restaurant close by, and had a BLT. 😂😂😂
Also, the plants are wild here! I saw all kinds of beautiful flowers, and trees sprouting from the streets and sidewalks! 🌸 🌺 💐
There were so many shiny, colorful temples. There were some hilarious signs for them, directing the public into the sacred space. I smelled beautiful tropical flowers, tripped on the uneven sidewalks, and was sweating more than I have in my entire life. People must have thought I’d just emerged from a swimming pool. There was a new temple about every block. I found an art gallery/hostel that had lovely paintings with the most bright, uplifting faces and smiles. So giggle-worthy! ❤️🇹🇭
I went into the big temples, bursting with tourists and Insta-famous people, which made getting pictures quite a challenge. I asked this nice gal from Korea to take a picture of me…and then WITH me, haha. She was absolutely gorgeous, and also traveling by herself. We chatted a while, and she told me that people are constantly speaking to her in Thai, lol.
6. Galangal Cooking Class
I took a cooking class!!! We started at the local market, where I tried all kinds of fruits I’d never seen before (reminding me of the Colombian food tours I took in Medellin…I was constantly asking “WHAT IS THAT??!”), and buying the veggies and meats and oils and herbs needed for our delicious dishes.
There were 5 people in my cooking class: a nice couple from Amsterdam, and two “coworkers” (who were clearly wanting to be an item haha) from Hong Kong, and me. We all fully enjoyed trying different kinds of new fruits, and learning about new, yummy vegetables.
The mushrooms looked delectable, and the garlic was a quarter of the size of normal garlic cloves. Our guide/cooking instructor, a nice gal named “New,” told us that we could eat the thin paper surrounding these small garlic cloves, so no need to make a fuss trying to peel them. She showed us the sesame oils and palm oils that they use. They use light, flavorless oils, as olive trees don’t grow in Thailand, so olive oil is quite expensive.
I made Pad See Ew (which was surprisingly simple if you have all the ingredients…not a lot of preparation required), and then Tom Yum, a sweet and sour shrimp soup, with delicious mushrooms and tomatoes and spicy peppers. After each dish, we’d sit down at the table like eat as a little family. 👨👨👧👧
We then made Khao Soi, a soupy noodle and chicken dish, only made in the north of Thailand, sort of like soup + noodles + a lot of fried croutons on the top. It was super greasy, but very flavorful.
We used our own Thai curry paste, which we made from garlic, cilantro, ginger, turmeric, thyme, pepper, fish sauce and a whole lot of chilies. Then, we used cooked rice noodles and fried rice noodles on top, blended together with coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice. 👅👅👅👍🏻👍🏻
We made noodles with veggies and fish sauce and garlic, which is a yummy appetizer, and then MANGO STICKY RICE, which made for a delicious dessert – and perfect completion of an amazing and yummy afternoon.
7. Day trip to Chiang Rai
I headed to the bus station to catch a (4 hour) bus to Chiang Rai! Chiang Rai was beautiful and I’ll write a post on it shortly!
Notes from the bus ride:
Every Thai bus driver drives like its his first time on the open road without his parents in the car. He accelerates like he has miles of flat empty highway ahead of him and brakes only when absolutely, jaw-grittingly necessary, looking death in the face – and sometimes not even then – slamming his foot down hard, sending everyone in the bus face-first into the seats in front of them.
I came back a day later after exploring Chiang Rai and got a massage. She stood on me with her entire body and it felt amazing.
8. Thai Belly
Two hours later….Ooooo!!!! Thai belly struck!!!!! (Note to self: no more bus stop food. “If you wouldn’t eat it at home, don’t eat it in a foreign country.” …I don’t know why I didn’t follow my own advice, lol) I was in bed for 28 hours. Most of the night was spent hunched over la toilette and the next day, I felt like someone had a-punched me in the stomach. I had to walk 2,500 steps to find freaking ginger, because I am apparently staying in the ONLY area of Chiang Mai without a pharmacy or supermarket close by, and a pink vitamin water was the closet thing 7 Eleven had to anti-nausea medicine. Protip: Pepto apparently does not help this strain of food poisoning, lol.
When you tell people you’re sick here, they treat you like they have the plague – I suppose the average person’s medical expenses are quite high when compared with how much they make, so it makes sense that helping sick foreigners isn’t on their to-do list, lol. Once I started saying FOOD POISONING instead of just “sick,” people got a lot friendlier. Everyone except my terrible hostel owner, who took her sweet time unlocking the fridge in the lobby so I could get my Sprite.
I wanted to go to the two night markets, but after taking a “short” 7 hour nap, all of that went out the window, haha. I slept for 18 hours, which just enough to pack for 2.5hrs and head back to bed for my train to Bangkok in the morning.
9. Saying Goodbye
So, other than the food poisoning, Chiang Mai was freaking beautiful, with lots of good food and photogenic temples. I met so many nice people and explored tiny shops with interesting histories and beautiful flowers. Don’t miss this great place in northern Thailand!
Thanks for reading, happy traveling!
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Here are some more pictures from Chiang Mai!